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There’s a lot to explore within the Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s new online map portal. From navigating bridge data to checking out upcoming construction projects and viewing a map of every railroad crossing in the state, the department is increasing transparency by providing a more interactive approach to many types of state maps and data.

Designed as a one-stop, all-inclusive data experience, the ODOT Map and Data Portal recently launched for public use at www.odot.org under the Road Conditions Resource Center. Mobile device users will need to click View Full Site to reach the full portal.

The portal includes more than 30 interactive maps and data sets such as the planned highway projects in the Eight-Year Construction Work Plan, current construction updates, live traffic times and cameras as well as traffic counts for state highways and mileage chart generators among many others. Many of the key maps are also listed by ODOT field division so that users may quickly hone in to their area of interest.

“We create and maintain a tremendous amount of data about our state highway system that we want to make more readily accessible,” said Dawn Sullivan, ODOT director of capital programs. “This portal will be useful to contractors and vendors as well as the general public wanting to learn more about construction plans and highway conditions for their area.”

The new online portal also allows the department to maintain and update public data closer to real-time. Some data will be updated weekly while other maps and data sets will be updated as needed.

An interactive tool bar in the upper left corner of all the maps allows users to toggle layers on or off, add base maps, measure or share the map. There are six maps ready for use on mobile devices with more scheduled to be available in the future. Other types of maps and data available within the portal include:

A county report map provides a significant amount of road and bridge information by clicking on each county and then choosing a report such as school district boundaries, U.S. Census Bureau information and historical data.

A complete inventory of structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges, both on and off the state system. Each data point contains detailed information about the location, the type of bridge, year it was built, traffic counts and whether it’s on a school bus route along with other data.
The public also will find a map dedicated to load-posted bridges. These are bridges with a posted weight limit for vehicles that may use the structure.

History and trivia buffs have not been left out of the map portal. They will find several applications of interest, including:

Historic Bridges and Roadways map application that shows the location of Depression-era bridges from 1933-45 and more than 100 truss and arch bridge locations statewide.

Memorial Roads and Bridges is an inventory of every highway and bridge designated with an honorary name by the state Legislature. The public may apply to have a bridge or state highway named after a loved one through their state legislator.

A county population map shows not just the current U.S. Census population for each county, but historical population numbers going back to 1890.

The online portal was created by ODOT in-house using industry-standard mapping tools with an annual $17,500 licensing cost. Engineers and contractors who already use ODOT mapping data also may find many of these maps and the underlying raw data via ArcGIS Online by using the keyword “okdot.”

16 025 mapportal screenshot crop

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation recently unveiled an online Map & Data Portal with more than 30 maps and data sets as part of its efforts to increase transparency and provide more information electronically to the public. It may be accessed via www.odot.org under Road Conditions Resource Center.

WASHINGTON — Oklahoma joined 10 other states on Wednesday in a lawsuit claiming the Obama administration's recent guidance on transgender bathroom policy violates the law and the U.S. Constitution.

The U.S. attorney general and other cabinet secretaries and federal officials "have conspired to turn workplaces and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running roughshod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights," the lawsuit states.

The states and school districts that filed the suit in federal court in Wichita Falls, Texas, have asked that a temporary injunction be issued blocking the administration from taking any action to punish schools or employers that don't comply with the guidance on transgender accommodations.

Joining the Texas-led lawsuit were Oklahoma, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Louisiana, Utah, Georgia, the governor of Maine, the Education Department of Arizona and a school district each in Texas and Arizona.

The lawsuit follows a now familiar pattern of Republican-led states challenging Obama administration regulations in federal court; Oklahoma and other states have also sued over health care, immigration and environmental regulations.

The new challenge comes on an issue that flared up earlier this year in North Carolina when that state passed a law requiring people to use public bathrooms of the gender on their birth certificates.

The Justice Department has filed a civil rights suit against North Carolina over the law, claiming that it discriminates against transgender people.

Guidance for schools

Earlier this month, the U.S. Justice and Education departments issued guidance to the nation's public schools about how to accommodate students who identify with a gender other than the one on their birth certificate.

"A school may provide separate facilities on the basis of sex, but must allow transgender students access to such facilities consistent with their gender identity," the document states.

"A school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or to use individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so."

The document advised schools that discrimination against transgender students would be viewed as sex discrimination and a threat to federal funds.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt asked for clarification about the guidance, and some Oklahoma lawmakers introduced a bill granting religious accommodations to students who object to sharing restrooms or shower facilities with transgender students who were born a different sex; that bill died this week.

Lawsuit claims

The lawsuit filed Wednesday says the guidance means schools that receive federal money "must allow students to choose the restrooms, locker rooms, and other intimate facilities that match their chosen 'gender identity' on any given day.

"Single-sex classes, schools, and dormitories must also be open to students based on their chosen 'gender identity.' "

The lawsuit also names the Labor Department, citing similar guidance to employers about workers' bathroom use.

The suit claims the administration is defining sex discrimination beyond congressional authority; that it was issuing rules and regulations without going through the formal rule-making process; and that the guidance violated the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection by allowing only transgender students to choose which bathroom they wanted to use.

Earlier this month, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the guidance for schools "does not add any additional requirements to any school district or state under the applicable law."

He said, "This is in response to extensive requests for guidance and for information and advice that have been put forward by school administrators and teachers and, in some cases, even parents who are seeking practical solutions to this challenge."

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister today made the following remarks on House Bill 3218, which repeals the end-of-instruction tests required for high school graduation and is en route to the governor.

“This testing reform bill will repeal our current end-of-instruction tests and replace them with high-value assessment tools for high school students. In addition, it limits standardized testing in grades 3 through 12 to only those federally required, plus U.S. History in high school.

“This is a momentous step toward a new focus on rich instruction and personalized learning for all students. It ensures input from stakeholders over the next year regarding new plans we will propose for state tests, graduation requirements and school accountability.

“The EOIs were a noble and ambitious idea, but after eight years of shackling them to graduation requirements, we have failed to move the needle in terms of college remediation or academic achievement.

“There is a better way. This legislation helps enable a smarter and more effective approach. In doing so, we can build stronger pathways to college and high-skill/high-demand careers, and we can build a meaningful A-F accountability system that is strengthened, credible and more transparent. Oklahoma public schools are facing serious challenges on a number of fronts, but I am optimistic that great things are ahead of us. House Bill 3218 helps pave the way for promising things on the horizon. And in the midst of a budgetary crisis impacting the entire state, there is no better time to dispense with these tests of dubious value.”

May 13, 2016 - The Diocese of Tulsa - her priests and deacons, her religious and her lay faithful - give thanks to God and rejoice that His Holiness Pope Francis has named Father David Konderla, 55, as the fourth Bishop of Tulsa.Bishop

Bishop-Elect Konderla is the second of twelve children, the son of David and the late Ann Konderla. He grew up in Bryan, Texas; graduated from Bryan High School in 1978 and worked for several years as a machinist before entering the seminary in 1985. He was ordained on June 3, 1995, after graduating from the University of Dallas in 1989 and having earned a Masters of Divinity from the University of St. Thomas and St. Mary's Seminary, in Houston.

Father Konderla served at St. Louis Parish in Austin and St. Luke's Parish in Temple before his assignment as associate pastor of St. Mary's in College Station. After four years there, he was named the Vocation Director for the Diocese of Austin, where he served the diocese another four years returning to St. Mary's as pastor and Director of Campus Ministry in August 2005. Other diocesan assignments include: member, priests’ personnel board, 2004-2011; member, vocations team, 2006; member, presbyteral council (2008-present) and interim presbyteral council (2010); member, College of Consultors, Austin, Texas.

Tentative plans call for the ordination and installation of Bishop-Elect Konderla at the end of June, at which time he will replace Bishop Edward Slattery, who turned 75 last August 11. Of his successor Bishop Slattery said: “Today with the announcement of my successor as the Bishop of Tulsa, Bishop-Elect David Konderla, my heart turns to Christ with sentiments of gratitude and joy for his constant Presence in my life and in the life of the Church. My prayer of petition to God the Father is for the good health and spiritual strength of the new Bishop. I know our people have been praying that Pope Francis would send us an energetic and prayerful man to be our shepherd, and I believe God has heard our prayer.”

Bishop-Elect Konderla will be at Catholic Charities Padre Pio Helping Center, 2450 North Harvard Avenue, Tulsa, assisting in the distribution of food from 11:40 a.m. and the press is invited. A press conference with questions and answers will follow at 12 noon. Unfortunately because of time restraints, there will be no individual interviews today but if you would like to arrange one, please feel free to contact Msgr. Pat. Brankin at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 918-307-4955.

FrCharles(Shawnee, Okla. – May 6, 2016) Rev. Don Wolf, Chairman of the Board of Directors for St. Gregory’s University, and Rt. Rev. Lawrence Stasyszen, O.S.B., St. Gregory’s University Chancellor, have named Father Charles Buckley, OSB, as acting President/CEO.

Fr. Charles is a long standing member of the monastic community at St. Gregory’s Abbey. He currently serves as a mathematics professor, but has served in a wide variety of roles throughout his time at St. Gregory’s, including a career counselor, dean of students and chaplain. He also served as Vice President for Academic Affairs from 2002-2005.

This announcement follows a vote by the Board of Directors to confirm the title of Emeritus on President D. Gregory Main, which will allow Main to continue his active role to advance the successful implementation of the recently announced strategic plan.

“The title of Emeritus is our way of expressing appreciation and acknowledging President Main’s countless contributions to St. Gregory’s University. The Board’s decision is intended to support the success of the University, which remains a primary focus of President Emeritus Main’s attention and energy,” Wolf said. “We are especially fortunate that he will continue to help guide the implementation of the initial phases of the comprehensive strategic plan, which he spearheaded during the last year and which the Board of Directors approved in February.”

The process for selecting the University’s new president is currently underway.

Founded in 1875, St. Gregory’s University is Oklahoma’s oldest institution of higher learning and only Catholic university. St. Gregory’s offers a liberal arts education rooted in the Benedictine tradition of cultivating the whole person – mind, body and spirit. With campuses in Shawnee and Tulsa, St. Gregory’s features both traditional and adult degree programs, including associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. For more information about the University, visit www.stgregorys.edu.

Barack Obama is launching a crackdown on international tax evasion in response to recent disclosures in the Panama Papers revealing the scale of offshore financial activity.

In a series of initiatives announced by the White House on Thursday night, the president will take executive action to close loopholes used by foreigners in the US and call on Congress to pass legislation

Though the later steps may hit political obstacles in an election year, the package of measures are among the most comprehensive response yet to the Panama Papers revelations, disclosed by a consortium of international journalists including The Guardian.

“In recent weeks, the disclosure of the so-called ‘Panama Papers’ – millions of leaked documents reportedly revealing the use of anonymous offshore shell companies – has brought the issues of illicit financial activity and tax evasion into the spotlight,” said the White House in a statement.

“The Panama Papers underscore the importance of the efforts the United States has taken domestically, and the efforts we have undertaken with our international partners, to address these shared challenges.”

Earlier Obama, who is also under pressure to limit the flow of corporate money out of the US, was one of the first world leaders to respond to the record-breaking leak last month.

“There is no doubt that the problem of global tax avoidance generally is a huge problem,” Obama told reporters in an unscheduled appearance last month. “The problem is that a lot of this stuff is legal, not illegal.”

The initial package of measures outlined by the White House this week may not go as far as some campaigners wish, but focus largely on increasing transparency regulations as a tool to flush further offshore tax abuses into the open. These include:

immediate executive action to combat money laundering, terrorist financing, and tax evasion with tighter transparency rulesnew treasury rules closing a loophole allowing foreigners to hide financial activity behind anonymous entities in the US.Stricter “customer due diligence” rules for banks handling money of behalf of clients

The White House and Treasury also called on Congress to pass a series of detailed measures they say would more directly tackle the problem of offshore tax avoidance in the longer run.

New Treasury rule could make it easier to hide money in the US, critics say

In wake of Panama Papers revelations, US Treasury is re-examining its policies on shell companies but experts say rule is too broad to discourage tax avoidance

“The treasury department has long focused on countering money laundering and corruption, cracking down on tax evasion, and hindering those looking to circumvent our sanctions,” said treasury secretary Jack Lew in a statement.

“Building on years of important work with stakeholders, the actions we are finalizing today mark a significant step forward to increase transparency and to prevent abusive conduct within the financial system.”

Plans are underway for the 1866th Treaty memorial event as this year marks the 150th Sesquicentennial anniversary of the Emancipated Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes as outlined in the ratified Treaty of 1866. This historic 150th Sesquicentennial commemorative event will commence on Friday, June 24, 2016, at 6:00 PM at the historic Skirvin Hotel in downtown Oklahoma City, with a mix and mingle, presenters, and an elegant plated dinner will be served at 6:45 PM.

Living history interpreter, Mr. Wallace C. Moore is the keynote speaker for this event. His presentation is titled "The Life and Times of Cow Tom," His presentation depict the account of the signing of the Treaty of 1866, and the role a free man of color called Cow Tom played in the conclusion of the Treaty.

Mr. Moore was born and raised in Seminole County, Oklahoma. After twenty- seven years of service with the United States Army, he retired with the rank of Sergeant Major. He is a historian, with a particular interest in the history made by African-Americans during the Indian War period.

Wallace is a cowboy poet, author, and re-enactor, and living history interpreter. He is a member of The Ninth and Tenth (Horse) Cavalry Association, The U.S. Cavalry Association, and the Single Action Shooting Society. He was the charter president of the first and only chapter of the Ninth and Tenth (Horse) Cavalry Association in the state of Oklahoma.

Wallace has entertained, as well as educated thousands of school children across the state of Oklahoma regarding the History and contributions made by Black Men and Women in the settling of the West. Subjects covered were the History of Negro Lawmen and Outlaws in the Indian Territory, Negro Scouts of the West, Black Cowboys, Trail hands, and Life and Times of the Buffalo Soldiers.

His style is a mixture of lecture, conference, and demonstrations. He always dresses in Period correct attire to match the subject matter presented. Wallace has performed for audiences across the United States. He spent one week at Epcot Center at Disney World at the Oklahoma Experience telling the stories of the Buffalo Soldiers.

After the Civil War, Freedmen or Black Indians were emancipated by a treaty signed in 1866 between the
Muscogee Creek Indian Freedmen Band.

P.O. Box 6366 Moore*OK*73153
www.1866creekfreedmen.com
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

United States and the various Tribal Nations. The Treaties of 1866 guaranteed that the Freedmen and their descendants would have rights as native citizens, including rights to land and national funds (The language of the five tribes treaties vary per nation, Google INDIAN AFFAIRS: LAWS AND TREATIES for the full language).
While the emancipation of the Freedmen/Black Indians is worthy of a grand celebration and has been celebrated throughout the Creek Nation and other tribal nations for many years. Sadly, in the 21st century, those same treaties that were once celebrated and held in such high regard are no longer being honored by the five tribes. The 1866 treaties were implemented to guarantee equal protection and inclusion for all tribal citizens whether it be full blood, mixed blood, or freedmen.

These reconstruction era treaties would become the basis of social, political, and legal controversy, framing debates about tribal belonging and citizenship well into the 21 century.
Treaty signers of the 1866 Creek treaty such as Cow Mikko “Cow Tom”, Harry Island and others are to be honored and commemorated for the role that they played in securing equal protection for the Freedmen. In as much, on June 24, 2016, the Muscogee Creek Indian Freedmen Band will celebrate the contributions made by Freedmen as many served in political office, as interpreters, treaty signers and negotiated on the behalf of the entire Creek Nation.

Tickets for this grand affair are $50.00 per person and $90.00 for couples. Official members/supporter will receive a 5% discount. Dress Attire: Semi-formal or formal with a black tie option. Visit the MCIFB’s website at www.1866creekfreedmen.com often as plans are unveiled for another exciting event for 2016.
Purchase tickets at the link below:

CLICK HERE

Visit our website often as plans are unveiled for another exciting event for 2016 at www.1866creekfreedmen.com.

For additional information contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 405-414-0366 or 405-204-0023.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016 15:15

Building in Henryetta burns to the ground

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Multiple Fire Departments worked to contain a fire that broke out around midnight at the location of 6th and Trudgeon in Henryetta near the Post Office early Wednesday. Firefighters worked to contain the fire to its location as the structure burned to the ground.

The building used to be the old Wood Funeral Home, but has not been in operation for many years.

Photos by Allen Gardner - ONN

Wednesday, 13 April 2016 13:34

Why Are Americans Buying So Many Guns?

Law-abiding Americans are buying guns at a record pace, and most tell us it’s for self-defense. Democrats, however, are far more likely than others to believe it is too easy to buy a gun these days.gunpurchasing

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that nearly one-out-of-four Americans (23%) say they or someone in their immediate family has bought a gun in the past year. Seventy percent (70%) have not, but six percent (6%) aren’t sure. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

Sixty-six percent (66%) believe self-defense is the main reason most people purchase a gun. Just five percent (5%) think they make such a purchase to commit a criminal act, while one percent (1%) say it’s for job purposes. Twenty-two percent (22%) say most people buy a gun for some other reason.

Forty-four percent (44%) of Americans think it is too easy to buy a gun in this country. Only 11% say it’s too hard, but 36% consider the level of difficulty about right.

A closer look finds that 64% of Democrats believe it is too easy to buy a gun in the United States, but only 28% of Republicans and 36% of those not affiliated with either major political party agree. Still, 21% of Democrats say they or someone in their immediate family has bought a gun in the past year, compared to 29% of Republicans and 20% of unaffiliateds.

Sixty-three percent (63%) of Americans with a gun in their household feel safer because someone in that household owns a gun.

(Want a free daily e-mail update? If it's in the news, it's in our polls). Rasmussen Reports updates are also available on Twitter or Facebook.

The survey of 1,000 American Adults was conducted on April 11-12, 2016 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology.

Voters still tend to oppose stricter gun control, perhaps in part because few think tougher gun laws will reduce the level of violent crime in this country.

Americans in nearly every demographic category strongly agree that most people purchase a gun for self-defense. Few think they have a criminal act in mind.

Men are more likely than women to say there’s a new gun in their immediate family. Women feel more strongly that it is too easy to buy a gun in America.

Senior citizens are the least likely to say they or someone in their family has bought a gun recently and are the strongest believers that it’s too easy to purchase one.

Whites are slightly less likely than blacks and other minority Americans to report the purchase of a gun in the past year. Blacks are the most likely to say most buy a gun for self-defense.

Americans with children in the home are twice as likely to have a new gun in the family as those who don’t have children living with them.

Among those who say they or an immediate family member has bought a gun in the past year, only 24% think the process is too easy; 53% say the level of difficulty is about right. But 54% of those who don’t have a new gun around say it’s too easy to buy one.

Eighty-one percent (81%) of all Americans oppose a plan in their community like one being considered in several major cities that would pay criminals up to $1,000 a month not to kill someone with a gun.

Just 22% of voters would feel safer living in a neighborhood where nobody was allowed to own a gun over one where they could have a gun for their own protection. Sixty-eight percent (68%) would feel safer in a neighborhood where guns are allowed.

Sixty-nine percent (69%) think it would be bad for America if only government officials such as the police and military personnel were allowed to have guns. Only 34% believe laws regarding the ownership of guns should be the responsibility of the federal government.

alissalloyd

Alissa Lloyd uses popsicle sticks to explain potential energy to fifth-graders at Kennedy Elementary School in Norman. Extensive medical bills forced her to drop out of school, but now through a new program at OU, she is earning her degree in early childhood education and looking forward to teaching in Oklahoma.

Alissa Lloyd’s dream of becoming a teacher was abruptly halted when, at age 21, she discovered she had cancer. Her battle with the disease forced her to drop out of college and drained her finances. But thanks to a special program for promising teachers at the University of Oklahoma, she is back on track pursuing a lifetime of helping children.

“It was the week my hair started to fall out that I knew I would never be the same,” said Lloyd, who underwent months of chemotherapy. “There was one night specifically that my parents held me as I sobbed, and they cried too, of course. I was coming to terms with having a life-threatening disease.”

OU’s Debt-Free Teachers Program is helping education students finance their education and overcome college debt, while at the same time helping children in high-need areas in Oklahoma. Students like Lloyd can earn $5,000 per year after graduation for up to four years by making a commitment to tackle some of the state’s most challenging teaching assignments.

Lloyd’s most crippling low was facing the fear that she might never become a teacher. She believes, however, there was a reason she endured Stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma: to help children who are also facing life struggles.

“It took about six months after remission to feel even halfway normal again, and that’s when a spark was lit inside me,“ Lloyd said. "I wanted to use my pain and my fear to help students with theirs. My life started over, and I became more passionate about teaching than I even knew I could be.”

Addressing the teacher shortage

The Debt-Free Teachers Program is an incentive for new teachers not only to embrace high-need areas but to keep them in Oklahoma. The teacher shortage in the state is most prevalent in specialized subject areas like math and science, and in rural and inner-urban areas.

Dr. Gregg Garn, dean of OU’s Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education, said the program was created in 2014 in response to graduates leaving the state immediately after receiving their degrees.

Only 45 percent of OU’s PK-12 education students work in the state’s public schools after graduation, according to a September 2015 study by the American Institutes for Research (AIR). Figures are similar for other universities across the state with top-producing teaching-degree programs.

Out-of-state students who are recruited by Oklahoma universities typically do not stay in the state either. From 2010 to 2014, 18 percent of graduates from the state’s institutions of higher education originated from outside Oklahoma, but only a quarter of those went on to serve Oklahoma’s schoolchildren.

“We were looking at the crisis where so many of our graduates walk across that stage, and it’s the last time they’re in Oklahoma because our salaries are just so uncompetitive when you compare and contrast the surrounding states. The idea was how do we keep our best and brightest teachers to grow our local communities, to grow our state?” Garn said.

Only two states – Mississippi and South Dakota – have lower average teacher salaries than Oklahoma, where the average pay and benefits is $44,628, according to a 2015 study by the National Education Association. Barring any new initiatives, Oklahoma is certain to drop on that list; South Dakota lawmakers passed a $67 million measure earlier this year to raise its average teacher salary to $48,500 for fiscal year 2017.

Further, the AIR study projects that the number of students completing Oklahoma educator-preparation programs will decline by 22 percent over the next five years.

“There are a lot of different groups this program really appeals to,” Garn said, “not to say anything of the superintendents who are scrambling to hire great people. And if this keeps better candidates in their pools, they’re another group that’s been really excited about this idea.”

Oklahoma’s teacher shortage has been a steadily growing problem. Since July 1, 2015, the Oklahoma State Department of Education has issued 1,060 emergency certifications. Emergency certifications grant new teachers a yearlong extension to meet training and assessment requirements for certification and are only approved after a district cannot find otherwise qualified teaching candidates. The number of emergency certifications has already more than doubled since last year, and it has skyrocketed since 2012, when emergency certifications were considered a rare exception. That year, the department issued only 30 emergency certifications.

“We have a lot of conversations with students to say it’s not all about the money,” said Garn, who notes that with an average ACT score of 26, his students could tackle any degree program at OU. “There are some really important things in life that have very little to do with money. They have to do with helping others, needing to create a bright future for others. That makes teaching a pretty rewarding profession despite the other challenges.“

How the program works

Based on conversations with superintendents and principals in Oklahoma, Garn said the university has defined five teaching areas where the need for qualified teachers is the highest: math, science, world language, special education and early childhood education. Candidates may teach in any subject area if they are in rural or inner-city schools.

OU undergraduates are selected based on merit and financial need and must sign a legally binding document in which they agree to teach at least four years in one of the state's high-need areas. The money is made available through a Lew Wentz Foundation Loan, and teachers have six years after they receive their degrees to complete their service. Teachers who fulfill their obligation have their debt forgiven. If not, they must repay the loan with interest.

Garn said there has been a huge demand from students who want to participate in the program, which began in 2014. So far, 37 students are enrolled, with eight graduating in May. Nine have already completed their studies and are serving in local schools. The program is fully funded through private donations.

Jonathan Johnson was one of the first teachers to benefit from the Debt-Free Teachers Program. He was part of the Urban Teacher Preparation Academy, which gives additional guidance to teachers in high-need areas through specialized professional development and ongoing mentoring in Oklahoma City Public Schools.

Johnson, who teaches fourth grade at Stand Watie Elementary School in Oklahoma City, received $5,000, enough to pay off his college debt. He said the program made up the difference of working in a higher-paid market and has made it possible for him to return to OU for his master’s degree in education.

“It’s very disheartening to know that I could be making thousands more if I move just three hours away, but I really think it’s a lot of fun to see the changes you can make in the people who really need help,” Johnson said. “I want to be a good role model and a good example for them. If you’re a good teacher, you can take fourth-graders who are on a first-grade reading level and see a big difference by the end of the year.”

Cancer survivor Lloyd plans to graduate from OU in December with a degree in early childhood education. Now 24, she is currently earning credit by serving part-time at Kennedy Elementary, a Norman school with a high percentage of students who receive free or reduced-price lunches.

“I have a huge, huge heart for low-income areas,” she said. “I think those kids need somebody just a little bit more. They need a few more advocates on their side.”

Finding funding

Garn said the idea of a “reverse scholarship” resonated with donors because they know they will receive a return on their investment.

Oklahoma State Regent Mike Turpen is one of those supporters. Turpen, who has chaired multimillion-dollar fundraising campaigns for Lyric Theatre and the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, said the hope is to expand the program to every university in the state.

“Educators impact eternity,” Turpen said. “We’re trying to honor teachers, respect teachers, help teachers, and for God’s sake, keep them in Oklahoma instead of going south of the Red River.”

Turpen will join banker Gene Rainbolt, a longtime advocate of improving and diversifying the Oklahoma economy, at a fundraiser for the Debt-Free Teachers Program. “A Literary Evening with Gene Rainbolt and Mike Turpen” will be from 6 to 8 p.m., Wednesday, April. 20, at Beaird Lounge in OU’s Oklahoma Memorial Union. The two will discuss their respective biographies, Out of the Dust and Turpen Time. Free books will be given to all attendees.

Turpen said $6.9 million has been raised for the Debt-Free Teachers Program, but it is $3.1 million away from its fundraising goal. He hopes the April 20 event will bring in at least $100,000.

Alissa Lloyd sought out OU in part because she needed that financial support after medical bills made it impossible to pay tuition.

“I can’t have a bad day after I’ve had cancer,” Lloyd said. “I feel like I went through that pain so that I could channel it when I help children who are hurting. Having cancer has made me so much more passionate about teaching.”

Written by Annette Price, communications and constituent services specialist at the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

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